The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has proposed a policy that would enable it to give conditional approval for barges to transport wastewater from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in bulk, a move that could potentially open the nation’s waterways as transit options.

In a policy letter, Capt. J.W. Mauger, commandant of the USCG’s Office of Design and Engineering Standards, said the guard needed to specify the conditions under which a barge owner could request an inspection certificate for transporting wastewater. The USCG would also need to define what information barge owners would need to provide, and any additional requirements.

“There is commercial interest in transporting [wastewater] from northern Appalachia via inland waterways to storage or reprocessing centers and final disposal sites in Ohio, Texas and Louisiana,” Mauger said. But wastewater “cannot be treated as ‘listed cargo’ because the specific chemical composition of [wastewater] varies from one consignment load to another and may contain one or more hazardous materials…including radioactive isotopes such as radium-226 and radium-228, which are known to be elevated in the Marcellus Shale,” he said.

The USCG may, at its discretion, provide an inspection certificate on the condition that the barge owner conducts and records an appropriate analysis of the cargo beforehand. Specifically, barge owners would need to show that:

According to Wednesday’s issue of the Federal Register, the USCG will accept public comments on the proposal until Nov. 29. Upon reviewing the comments, the USCG will issue a final policy letter and specify its effective date.

Lou D’Amico, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, declined to comment because the organization had not had an opportunity to review the proposal.

At least two projects along the Ohio River could receive a significant boost if the USCG grants conditional approval for barges to haul wastewater.

GreenHunter Water LLC began processing complex oilfield waste from a bulk storage and barge transloading terminal along the Ohio River at New Matamoras, OH, in July (see Shale Daily,July 1). Meanwhile, about 80 miles upriver, River Rail Development LLC is redeveloping a former steel mill in Steubenville, OH, to support shale operations (see Shale Daily,April 9). The site will have barge access on the Ohio River.